Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Marketing my blog

I've now released the URL of this blog to a few select & trusted individuals for thier comments. I'd very much value your feedback and thoughts on other subjects to cover.
(Also, if you see any spelling mistakes, can you point them out... ta!)

You will also soon see this blog submitted via my Technorati Profile

View Hayden Sutherland's profile on LinkedIn

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dealing with a crisis 2.0

The worst-case scenario happens.... something goes wrong and you're in the media (and possibly political) spotlight.

So, how does a modern company deal with the crisis in a decentralised media landscape? Here are some examples:

1. BP's Texas City refinery explosion
BP America make all the reports about the tragedy that killed 15 people in 2005 available online.
(but also doesn't waste time in promoting its charitable work following Hurricane Katrina )

2. JetBlue CEO says sorry for a major customer services faux pas on YouTube:

Who influences the influencers?

There is quite possibly a bunch of people out there in the digital space who have an opinion about your product/service company/brand. They either love or loath you, but either way they feel they can say what they want. You cannot stop this, unless you take stong action (e.g. legal) and this should only be a final recourse as it can send a very strong message .

So what are your choices?

1. Do nothing
The recourse of the apathetic or bewildered and usually what people do hoping "the whole thing will blow over soon enough". However, in digital land, bad news hangs around for ages and even exacerbates over time . Infamy is never a becoming feature of any company (Infamy, infamy..... etc.)

2. Manage the situation
The only thing potentially worse than doing nothing, is doing the wrong thing and inflaming a situation or chasing after a lost cause can cause further issues. However, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, as a resolved complaint provides the ideal opportunity to create an advocate.

So to answer the question "Who influences the influencers?"... the answer should be "you" (dear corporate reader). You have the chance to:

a. Identify your influencers (both positive & negative)
b. Understand the level and types of influence they have
c. Assess those that are right for you to have an interaction with
d. Start to engage with a dialogue with some of them

Just tread carefully as you go....

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Customer Generated Reviews and their effect

Q: Do new customers trust your brand or company before they've ever dealt with you?
A: Possibly, but unlikely. Only if you have done lots to try to pursuade them (this marketing costs money)

Q: Would a potential customer trust your brand or company over another, if someone else positively rated the experience with you?
A: Yes!
Consumers place far more trust in their fellow consumers than they do in traditional marketers and advertisers

Q: Would a negative customer review about a product make you think twice about buying a product?
A: Yes! And there's lots of these about:

There use to be a card stuck up on a till in my local Fish & Chip shop in Kent when I was a boy: "If you like our service, tell your friends. If you don't, tell us". However, in the web-enabled world of enhanced communications and consumer opinion, this has evolved: "Satisfied customers tell 3 friends, angry customers tell 3000" (Apols, but this book isn't out yet). Now a single customer with a 'bee in their bonnet' can now tell a significant number of people exactly what they think... and this can affect your brand and even your bottom line, as bad reviews affect sales!

There is nothing you can do to prevent this content from being posted out there, apart from provide 100% customer satisfaction. However you cannot please all your customers all the time and trying to provide this is neither possible nor profitable.

What's worse is that unchecked..... these individuals become the worst sorts of influencers for a company. They become beacons of outrage and this attention may even strengthen their passion.

However, this is not all bad news, you don't have to just fear feedback. Consumer reviews can and should be seen in a positive light. What your user wants should hopefully feedback into your customer research. After all, you would usually pay decent money to a research agency to get the insight into your customer thoughts & behavours. A certain percentage are prepared to provide this for free. Its then deciding who and how to ask that becomes the next problem.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Creating a company 'Group' in a Social Network

So why should a company get involved in Social Networking? These are sites where people build relationships with other people and create groups of peers who share interests. So should a company or organisation at least consider the possibility of entering into these sites?

If your target audience is already using Social Networking sites (Bebo, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) then its a good bet that they are already discussing, commenting on and interacting with your products and brand. They are doing this in their own way, without your company's control/influence. They are probably also asking questions about your products that are not getting answered, or making statements about your brand that are incorrect (either purposefully or not).

If your employees are also on such sites, they are possibly mentioning your products or services and some may well be answering questions on behalf of you. There is therefore a likely demand for the 'official' line, the answers to simple questions (easily provided by links to content such as: FAQ's, branch locators, etc.)

There's also an affinity created by users who share a liking for a product or brand. They will want to 'bond' with your company and would be likely to consider information from your company within these spaces.

So who does this well?

Following their sponsorship of 'The Drambui Pursuit' (an annual race, involving extreme sports, that takes place in Scotland), the Drambui 'Clan' have created their own Group in Facebook:

This fulfills two major roles:

1. To increase awareness of the actual event amongst likely participants and other inactive but highly aspirational potential customers (e.g. training tips, event questions, etc.)

2. To provide a social area where other Drambui-supported events can be shown. The most recent being a set of Scottish-themed 'Den Parties' around the UK, paid for by Drambui.

So does this work?


a) The Group has 694 member so far (up from just over 500 a month or so back) and we should expect more to join as coverage of the event grows towards Spring 2008.
b) Hopeful teams are uploading their 'audition' videos to the site and members are commenting on them
c) One other company has already started offering Group members discounts on its outdoor clothing range:

Food for thought?

Using a company blog to admit mistakes

Why do it? When a company admits to making mistakes, surely it just exposes weaknesses?

Now, I'm not going to discuss how a company should go about creating or maintaining a Company blog. There's enough information out there on the subject and I'll refer to the experts:

Generally, humans get on best with other humans and relationships are created every day. However for an normal person, a company is often hard to have a personal relationship with(unless its a bad one). They may have a relationship with the brand or even with individuals within that company, but not many people 'enjoy' their dealings with the companies they need to exist in life these days (just ask how many people ring up a Customer Services department to tell them how much they like the company). Having a one-t0-one relationship means admitting (or being prepapred to admit) you're wrong, in fact that can strengthen the relationship.

However is really possible to create a company culture that admits its mistakes? Some think so and even encourage it!

Now a company blog is usually a place to put 'official' communications out in a more personal way. Whilst mostly it is an individual that writes the corporate blog, other times its a collection of PR individual's trying to create the impression that there's a single person there. For example, are we really to believe that this is really Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder?
Here the blog has primarily been used for admitting mistakes (newsfeed response and beacon being the obvious topics).

Blogging your mistakes does not necessarily turn everyone against you. Often honestly can be the best policy. Recently Moo, a London-based photo site, had a disc issue which took their site down for a period of time. They blogged about it here:
The feedback to this honesty has been mostly favourable.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mapping the influence

In one of my previous postings, I pondered on how you would create an interface to represent information/control (influence) beyond the 'walled garden' yet within the sphere of your influence. So I've done some research on this in an attempt to understand it more.

There have been various recent projects that have attempted to show the 'Social Graph' - Felix Heinen's (a student who's Final Year project in Information Design) visualisations of a Social Network 'not unlike' begin to give an insight into how complex the 'Corporate Graph' could be:

Now, Graph Theory has been around for years and I'm not about to study Computational Geometry when I'm a web strategist.... however there is good work that has been done already that tries to model influence across the Internet. In fact the recent work by some students at Maryland Baltimore University has modelled influence within the Blogsphere

However, what is perhaps needed is a more 'human' way to address the interface needs, by:
1. Providing the researcher with the tools to search and filter results
2. Providing them with a simpler interface that they are used to or at least recognise
3. Providing some 'visualisation on demand' service where the entire model only exisits as data and 'chunks' are rendered as required.

In fact, something like this does the job nicely:
(Correct Java version needed)

Decentralised Information

Tim Berners-Lee (the "Daddy" of the WWW) in his recent Blog posting goes into some detail to describe the 'Graph' of information resources out there. He sees this as the evolution of the Web that he created.
In his terminology:
The Internet - connects computers
The WWW - connects documents
The Graph - connects relationships

Its how we interact with resources (people, data, etc.) that becomes important. Its therefore all about the connections between us & other resources and how they affect us.
However, I believe a company is also a resource in this model . Being an entity that consumes and distributes out data, a company acts like a multi-armed (and some may say multi-faced) individual. Having external relationships in different and complex ways with: consumers, suppliers, the press, etc.

If Tim is right, we should be able to understand the Corporate Graph, rather like an individual's personal relationships with their friends. Perhaps we can map it rather like this?:
(my personal Facebook TouchGraph)

If we can, then we start to see different influencers given different 'ratings' (I'm sure there's a better word). This will also change over time, just as my Personal TouchGraph has changed - since I have got more friends now in Facebook and they too have their own inter-relationships.

The next logical question must surely be: "How do I use this information?". Perhaps if we can map our influencers, we can also (separately) map those we can influence or who's our opinion matters most to?

However as an individual I know that people get nervous/hurt/insulted when you start to put a name or value to a relationship. "Dear 5th most-liked friend, I'm seeing my number 3 tonight, can we make it next week? But as the "Daddy" says: "It is about getting excited about connections, rather than nervous."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Using the Collective Sentiment

Collective Intelligence taps the expertise of a group rather than the individual, usually to make decisions (not 'design by committe'; but more usually 'if 2 brains are better than 1, then many are better than a few') . However, tapping into the collective sentiment could be aterrible way to gain insight. But doing it timely and in the right way could identify feelings or other tendancies towards companies and their products.

Think of it like a focus group for the 21st Century... your users/consumer/customers all commenting in their own ways about what presses their particular mephoric buttons. Normal people generating pockets of 'buzz' across the digital landscape or alternatively generating misinformation about your products (or you). They blog about their face cream, they twitter about the latest flavour of chicken sauce or they load your company logo to their MySpace area.

Just as some companies use distributed co-creation (user-centred innovation) to solve problems by encouraging feedback and even facilitating changes to products by their users*, we can utilise the people and structures beyond the 'walled garden' of complete influence for PR purposes. Although this is already happening (don't all company PR execs secretly 'lurk' in product discussion areas?), how many companies actually understand and measure the collective comments and sentiment?

*(If you don't believe me, just ask why so many Web2.0 products are in permanent 'beta' .Then look at the requested features list from its top users)

Dear Santa, can you please send me:

One word of warning though:
"Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups" - W. F. Nietzsche

The value of sharing press areas

Companies who have 'Press' areas and 'About Us' sections on their website encourage visitors to read their communications. In fact, for a lot of corporate websites, the press releases are a great source of SEO content (contain lots of relevant keywords, etc.).

However, what's the case for a company sharing their 'Press' section with other companies?

1. It creates a news hub that is a 'one stop' area for the user (consumer or business) - allowing cross-site searches may be particularly useful functionality
2. It could provide cross-references to other companies releases within the same hub (and manage those links, should the articles be changed, withdrawn, etc.)
3. If not part of the main corporate site (e.g. hosted somewhere else), it could create numerous in-bound links to that corporate site - thus significantly improving its SEO.

1. The content may be seen to have less authority if it is not part of the main site.
2. A brand's qualities may not be as prominent on a site where its competition are also to be found - therefore affecting stand-out (signal/noise) in any competitive market
3. Corporates may have security concerns about relinquishing their communication 'crown jewels' over to a 3rd party

I'm sure there are other good & bad points to consider.... I am looking forward to addressing the concerns mentioned here though.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beyond the Walled Garden - the User Interface

Ryan Singer of 37 Signals (Basecamp, etc.) gives a presentation on effective User Interfaces:

Which leads me to consider how you could even hope to show a user the level of information/control being managed beyond the 'walled garden'. Assuming you could somehow measure this level, the UI would have to be both complex (potentially showing numerous content areas/places) and simplistic enough to be utterly usable.

The worry is that people don't consider measuring the impact or regard it as too difficult.

The future of the company website

I've recently read a great article by Jeremiah Owyang on what he believes the corporate website will be in 5 years time.

Whilst I agree with a lot of what he says, I'm not sure that this will be the entire situation in 2012. But rather like today's web, we will have different companies at various points along the implementation path he proposes (and some still not on it at all) .

The importance of his words for me, is that he believes that there will be an evolution away from the core website we see today (which has itself been evolving). He sees a place where company content is not just within the 'walled garden' of the corporate website, but outside.
The question we may want to consider understanding is:

How does a company go about understanding and leveraging the amount of influence it has on the content outside its walled garden?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Press Pages

Throughout my web development career I've developed numerous sites that have an area called: 'About Us', 'Press', 'Company Information', 'New Releases' and other such titles. These sections of content are mainly run by the PR divison or external communications department. They have historically been a one-way publish method of getting B2C and B2B communications out to your audience. It is written in a professional way and focusing on one particular subject (person, product offering, change in service, etc.)
See Pressbox's guidance on how to do this well:

Companies want control over their communications. They want the 'official' line to be given how and when they want.


Haven't things changed now?
With the advent of an empowered audience and the ability to place news & opinions in the hands of everyone.... isn't there:
A place for a more social method of communication, even for companies?
A place between the company blog and the press release.
A place to see user feedback and customers thoughts
A place where the official communication can be shared, either with the public or other companes?